By Massad Ayoob
Deb Lyman, owner of Wallingford, Conn.-based Blue Trail Range. In the past 18 months, she has taken a long-standing operation and helped modernize its offerings to appeal to a broader range of customers.
The state of Connecticut is rich in gun history, and within its borders there is no more iconic a shooting facility than Blue Trail Range.
Blue Trail was established in June 1945 on a shooting range constructed there nine years prior. Three generations of Lyman males have run it since. Charles Elihu Lyman, founder of the famed Lyman Gun Sight Company, was the first. The man who ran Blue Trail most recently was his grandson Dave Lyman, who passed away prematurely and unexpectedly in August 2017.
Deb Lyman married Dave in September 1976. Through the years since, she balanced her career at Yale University with the family range and gun shop. With Dave gone, she became the first woman of the Lyman family to take over and she took the reins with strength and purpose.
Customer Service Is “Number One”
Dave passed in Columbus, Ohio, where he was visiting his and Deb’s only child, Remington. Remington, now 24, went to Ohio State University on an athletic scholarship, and was dynamically active in its men’s rifle program. Since Dave’s death, Remington has helped his mom establish Blue Trail’s presence on social media. “We’re on Facebook. Remington was the one who really got us into the social media game,” Deb Lyman lends.
A recent upturn in business has created some challenges at the store, Lyman shared. “We’re in need of building up our staff; business has picked up,” Deb tells Shooting Industry. Deb works full-time at Yale as a compliance analyst and training coordinator. She will be eligible to retire next year.
Lyman needed a general manager for Blue Trail. In June 2018 she hired Kyle Overturf, who had just retired as Colonel of DEEP, Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. He now runs Blue Trail’s day-to-day operations.
“When we had the lawsuit, Kyle was instrumental in saying there was no written law that supported shutting Blue Trail down. He crucially worked out the deal with the state,” Lyman shared, speaking of an unmeritorious attempt to shut down the range that took her and Dave many years and over $1 million in legal fees to beat.
Friends of the range were ready to step in and help. Deb lends, “Two months after David passed, the father of two of the boys put through here [in Blue Trail’s rifle shooting program] asked if he could put together a business plan for me. His name is Bill Stanley. He’s retired now. Things were a bit run-down; the store was beyond my capability.”
Under Deb’s tutelage, the facility has initiated some positive changes.
“We now greet everyone at the door. Customer service is number one,” she said. “We have the gun store. We implemented firearms rentals for the first time. We do a lot of private instruction now, in how to use any type of firearm. We just had a family come in whose son is going to Xavier University, which has a rifle team, and they wanted to get their son ready to try out. We now have bachelor parties here.”
Like other ranges, Blue Trail has found success in offering (and promoting) classes.
Deb shared, “We used to put 15 people through pistol classes per month; now we run about 40 a month. I have 21 registered for tonight’s class, with two classes a week on the schedule, which I’ll be teaching.”
Rental guns have also grown. (This is an area identified by other dealers quoted in Shooting Industry as a strong category for growth in 2019, see p. 46.)
“We’ve added rental guns. We can’t rent a gun in Connecticut to anyone without a pistol permit, but we can go out with them in private classes before their permit comes through,” Deb explained.
Offering a consistent women’s-only event has proved timely, as well.
“We have our own women’s pistol club every Wednesday night. We have 31 members and are looking at extending to 50. We have about 20 people show up at each of these meetings. Education is a big thing for us,” she said.
Paying It Forward
Service to the community provides an avenue for a dealer to stand out locally. David took this approach to heart, with Deb confirming he had coached at four local high schools — which has had a lasting impact.
“If we had to look at something coming out of David’s demise, I knew there was no way I could fill in at the four high schools where he had been coaching,” she informed. “I went to each of the schools and explained, ‘You’ve got to find me someone in each school for whom we can run a certification course.’ All four schools found someone, and we even picked up one more school. One, Avon High School, was in the top three of the high school league shoot off with .22 rifles.”
She concludes, “In this part of the state we still have our rifle ranges and rifle clubs in the high schools, using .22s, generally at separate ranges. One school actually has its own rifle range. There are 17 active high school teams statewide. A great percentage of them come back to Blue Trail after they graduate. They tell me again and again shooting kept them on the right road, kept them out of trouble. Dave always made sure they would get the flavor of the local community where they traveled to compete, to make the experience more educational.”
Visitors to Blue Trail’s website will learn of recent updates to the facility — an effort to boost a customer’s experience at the range.
Managing Ups And Downs
The new administration at Blue Trail has experienced its share of ups and downs. One downer was the Square point-of-sale system Deb adopted, only to find the company does not support businesses that sell firearms and ammunition. She switched to Celerant’s Cumulus Retail, a system recommended by NSSF.
Lyman has enjoyed several triumphs, however, such as successfully expanding the footprint of Blue Trail’s retail arm.
Deb reports, “Because of how the facility is laid out, many shooters didn’t even know we had the retail operation. Today, someone from the store always greets arriving shooters and brings them into the gun store to sign up. This has significantly increased sales.”
Plans for improving the range are in the works — which plays into the increasingly important “experience” customers have on the range today.
“At Points 1 through 60 of the 120 firing points on our outdoor range, the roof is leaking. We’re having sandblasting done, and new roofs installed made of a composite resembling what is put in truck beds. Further, we’re replacing old asphalt with new cement,” she lends. “We’re considering closing the pistol side and putting in heaters for the winter.”
Lastly, Blue Trail has made inroads in the law enforcement arena to create a new revenue stream.
“We’re leasing our private ranges more to law enforcement, thanks to Kyle’s contacts in that sector, and we have more private trainers coming in for classes,” Lyman shared.
All signs point to the Blue Trail Range remaining in the strong, capable Lyman hands for yet another generation. A well-earned SI salute!